Addressing the bane to solar energy promotion

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More than thirty people huddled under the house of the village chief to listen to the presentation of the Cambodian SUN marketing staff. Using a flipchart, they discussed the technical aspects of the product and after sales support to the solar home system (SHS). It was fast, within fifteen minutes and the presentation was finished. Question-and-answer portion followed and excited voices asked questions at the same time. The marketing staff patiently answered each question to satisfy the curiosity of the audience.

Surprisingly, the price was not the main concern, but the “cowboys”.  The term refers to the agents selling solar panels house-to-house in the rural areas of Cambodia. They sell solar home systems cheap, as they do not concern with quality of the products. The main approach is “let the buyers beware”.  No after sales service is given. Some promise to provide but when the units break down, nobody comes or the telephone number cannot be accessed.

It is no wonder that most of the questions raised were about customer service.  A specific case shared was the case of a neighbor who bought a unit and after 2 years broke down. Nobody came to repair, and the panel on the roof is a clear testament of an unfulfilled warranty. Another case is a donated set to the school. After several months, the unit was broken and nobody came to repair or maintain it.  Again, the set of three solar panels at the roof of the school reminds the people that it cannot be maintained, and investment to the SHS will be a waste of money. Business practices like these do not contribute in making solar home systems as alternative energy sources in the rural areas. It also deprives the people, especially the poor of cheap, quality and long-term energy source.

One of the main emphases of the Cambodian SUN program is to address the negative effects of cowboy sales.  With the tripartite partnership, the supplier ensures the quality of the product and the after sales customer service; the microfinance institution does not only provide loans but monitoring as well; and, the marketing firm ensures continuous information and education activities to the clients.  It is a good sight to behold that at the end of the marketing session, several people signed up for installation. They will be assessed by the microfinance institution if they are qualified. Once ascertained of their capacity to pay, units will be installed in their houses.

One unexpected result as we leave the village is a cash sale.  While the marketing staffs were answering questions, a lady phoned her children to inform them that she will be buying a solar home system unit. And she paid in cash!

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